sheenaghpugh: (Default)
I've blogged before about Catherine Fisher's YA novels, in particular Incarceron and Sapphique. There's been a film option on Incarceron for a while but now they've signed Taylor Lautner to play Finn. I'm assured that if I were a teenage girl I would know who Mr Lautner was, because he's been wasting his time making Twilight films. But he's clearly capable of Better Things because apparently he'd read Incarceron and was keen to be in it; also it seems unlikely they'd sign up someone like him unless they really meant to move on it.

sheenaghpugh: (Default)


Crown of Acorns, Catherine Fisher's latest, has three separate strands, taking place in three time zones. In prehistory, Bladud the leprous king is cured by the sacred spring of Sulis, but the circles he builds to her honour in his gratitude come to imprison him. In the 18th century, Zachariah Stoke works as apprentice to Jonathan Forrest, who dreams of building a perfect circle of houses. And in the present day, a girl of 17, calling herself Sulis, arrives in Bath, with a false identity provided for her by social services and a habit of looking over her shoulder for a man who may or may not be there.

It will be clear already that what links the three strands, apart from images and themes, is a location, the city of Bath. To the young Sulis, it is her "ideal city", bewitching her both with its golden stone and its unimaginably long history, and it works much the same magic on the reader. So does the grand obsession of Forrest, a slightly fictionalised version of John Wood, architect of the King's Circus in Bath, a visionary artist plagued by mole-eyed money men. Meanwhile in the best Fisher tradition we have not one but two refreshingly chippy, unorthodox young protagonists in Sulis and Zac, (not to mention their two equally chippy foils, Josh and Sylvia).

Like the perfect circle of houses, the themes and images in this book constantly mirror each other, but though what goes around comes around, it is subtly changed; history does not simply repeat itself in a new time but rather reinvents itself constantly, as no two acorns produce identical oak trees.

If having two teenage protagonists - albeit pretty late teens - makes a book "young adult" rather than adult, I suppose that's what this is, despite the fact that the portrayal of 18th-century Bath's gambling hells, and the girl who used to work in one, is as grim and gritty as you'd expect. But the adult/young adult boundary is meaningless when the book is good enough - does anyone stop reading Treasure Island when they grow up, just because Jim is young? - and this is the most enjoyable novel I've reviewed for a while (S. Pugh. aged 59 and a quarter).
sheenaghpugh: (Heslop from Porridge)
I'll go with most of what Michael Norris says about encouraging children to read. But re his "5 points", viz:

■ Don't make reading a chore; it is not "good" behaviour.

■ Let your child choose their own reading from a handful of selected books.

■ Don't edit their choice by the age range on the back: see what they fancy.

■ Don't tell them what you enjoyed when you were their age.

■ Stand back and let your child talk directly to the librarian or bookseller

I have to scream very loudly at no 2 - what's with this "from a handful of selected books"? That'll be selected by an adult, right, and it's still directional. NO!!! Give the child the run of all the shelves in the house, the library or the bookshop and let him/her go with what he/she fancies. If it's truly unsuitable, as in too easy or too advanced for them to get anything out of it, it'll soon be put down. If a child perseveres with a book, it's certain he or she is getting something out of it. That's where no 3 is so important, and why it really isn't a good idea to put age ranges on the backs of books to "guide" parents. A book that seems to the parent too easy may be providing comfort; a book that seems too advanced may be stretching the imagination wonderfully. If parents have books at home they're really ashamed for the kids to see, then let them do what the bookshops do and put them on the top shelf, where they'll probably escape attention. But letting kids roam free among books is essential, because it's what you discover for yourself that stays with you. Would you take children to the beach and give them a handful of selected seashells?
sheenaghpugh: (Heslop from Porridge)
It's always a revelation when you had assumed for years that everyone was agreed on a certain point and then it turns out not to be so! Being a writer, reader and one-time teacher of writing, I have always assumed that when readers come across the story ending "and then he woke up and found it had all been a dream", they do what I would, ie hurl the book across the room, curse the author for wasting their time and cross him/her off their reading list. Even if - especially if - I have enjoyed the story up to then, I feel cheated by the fact that nothing has changed, indeed nothing has actually happened and my time and emotions have been engaged to no purpose.

So it's a surprise, in a facebook discussion of John Masefield's The Box of Delights, an otherwise fine children's book which pulls this unworthy stunt in the last sentence, to find not just people who can forgive this because they like the book otherwise, but some who like this ending anyway. It has of course been taboo with writing gurus for years, but that's not just because of fashions in teaching, rather it's because this ending is perceived as so unpopular with readers as to be a commercial killer. I have always assumed indeed that editors and publishers have the same attitude to it, on the same grounds, but am I wrong there? (Re Alice in Wonderland, btw, yes, it has that ending, but (a) that doesn't make it right and (b) the device was at least a great deal newer then.)

EDIT: See [livejournal.com profile] steepholm's comment below for a link to a fascinating fact i didn't know about the ending of Masefield's book...

Can we figure out how to do a poll, perchance?

[Poll #1485330]
sheenaghpugh: (Anthony Gormley's Another Place)
Becoming Merlin on the BBC Wales site, part of a series of retelling of myths for children. I wish they had let her read it, but still, better than nowt. Took a while to load for me, but it's interactive and on the last pages you can make the sun do things....
sheenaghpugh: (Do somethin' else!)
Will Self, in an article in today's Guardian on Roald Dahl, has this quote:

I was once with Martin Amis when he was asked if he'd ever consider writing a children's book. He thought for a few moments before drawling: "I might . . . if I had brain damage."

No wonder I've always found Amis a dull author! Indeed he's a dullard full stop, if he seriously imagines you need less ability to write for the world's most discerning and least forgiving audience. When, years ago, I was reading the first page of some Amis on which bugger all of any interest appeared to be going on, I ploughed on with it in case it got better, as adults do (it didn't). A child, faced with the same lack of any narrative hook, would have thrown the book across the room and gone in search of something more interesting, an expedient I only reached after several more pages. Self, by the sound of him, would consider it, but then he's a far sparkier, more open-minded and more surprising author.

When I taught creative writing, I'd sometimes have first years ask advice on what to study in the second year. This was when children's writing kicked in (too advanced for first years, see) and I'd always say, by all means have a go at it if the craft fascinates you, just don't, whatever you do, opt for it because you're struggling with writing for adults and think this'll be easier, cos it isn't.
sheenaghpugh: (Bookworm)
The sequel to Catherine Fisher's Incarceron, which was The Times children's book of the year, landed on my doormat this week.



And if anything, I think it's better than Incarceron. The theme of both is really unusual for a children's book: the way we interpret (and misinterpret) the world we live in. In the Realm, outside, extreme modern technology is used to create the illusion of a pre-tech age of imagined arcadian bliss (for the rich), complete with picturesque hovels whose impoverished inhabitants are forbidden to glass the windows because it isn't compatible with the era they are meant not to have moved on from. Jared, near the end, muses on age and decay, generally the last remaining taboo in this genre: ".. a staircase he had climbed every day for years had become a treacherous obstacle, a deathtrap. This was how time transformed things, how your body betrayed you. This was what the Realm had tried to forget, in its deliberate elegant amnesia". In Incarceron, the vast (or tiny, depending whether you are inside or outside) prison, Rix the magician's act depends on allowing people to persuade themselves things are true:

"So it wasn't the real Glove? [...] But it burned him?"
"Well, he was right about the acid. As for not being able to take it off, he was perfectly able to. But I made him believe he could not. That is magic, Attia. To take a man's mind and twist it to believe the impossible".

cut for major spoilers )

In short, a brilliant book which raises all sorts of fascinating questions this genre often doesn't. Now watch the Grauniad's review pages ignore it because it's fantasy. I don't think they have ever given her a review, despite the fact that she has been shortlisted for the Whitbread and Carnegie, translated into about 20 languages and both the Times and Telegraph regularly rave about her. Mole-eyed fools, the Guardianistas.
sheenaghpugh: (Bookworm)
Sapphique, the sequel to the Carnegie-nominated Incarceron, is coming out before too long and there's an excerpt from it up on her web site here. As usual, being a kids' book, it is about twice as gripping as anything written for adults...


sheenaghpugh: (book)
... to hear that Catherine Fisher's Incarceron is longlisted for the Carnegie Medal. Apart from how gripping and thought-provoking it is, I've fallen seriously in love with one of the characters, the hero's best friend Keiro, who may or may not be on the side of the angels - I foresee major angst in the sequel, with any luck.


sheenaghpugh: (book)
... in Germany, at least, and via being quoted by someone who already is? Some time ago I got a request from a German publisher on behalf of a children's author who wanted to quote a translated version of a poem of mine called "What If This Road". I said sure, why not (quite forgetting to ask for any money; I do wish mamma hadn't brought me up believing it was rude to mention money) and thought no more of it. I didn't take much note of the author's name either.

Soooo... the complimentary copy just arrived and when I saw what a beautiful hardback artefact it was, I checked up on the author at last. Obviously I should have heard of Cornelia Funke; she's been translated into English and all sorts of other languages and her Wikipedia entry says she's compared to JKR - most unfairly as far as I can see, as the little I have read so far makes Funke look a far better writer. (Her website is even more fun, too.) What I have is the German version of Tintentod (Inkdeath); apparently it comes out in English next year, and at least one US bookshop has ordered the German version because his customers couldn't wait for the English one.

Well, well... all recognition is welcome, including that classed as OBE (Other Buggers' Efforts). I wish the translation of the poem had preserved an ambiguity in the last two lines, but it isn't bad otherwise (nor am I saying I see how it could have done).

Poem behind the cut if anyone's interested What If This Road )

and here's the German version )

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